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Gay man says Brazilian husband denied asylum

A gay Brazilian man has been denied asylum by the Obama administration and won't be reunited with his American husband in the U.S., the husband said Monday.
Gay Marriage Asylum
Tim Coco, right, is seen in his Haverhill, Mass., office on March 20 with his husband, Genesio "Junior" Januario Oliveira Jr., on a video conference call from Brazil.Elise Amendola / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A gay Brazilian man has been denied asylum by the Obama administration and won't be reunited with his American husband in the U.S., the husband said Monday.

Tim Coco said Attorney General Eric Holder did not act on a Friday deadline in the case of Genesio "Junior" Oliveira, effectively denying the 30-year-old Brazilian man's request for asylum in the U.S. on humanitarian grounds.

"We needed the Attorney General to make a decision on whether Junior could come home," said Coco, 48, of Haverhill. "He didn't take this request seriously."

The Justice Department did not immediately return messages.

In 2002, Oliveira had sought asylum in the U.S. because he said he was raped as a teenager in Brazil. But an immigration judge denied his request, and Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said in a letter that Oliveira repeatedly remarked at his hearing that he "was never physically harmed" by anyone in Brazil.

The Associated Press does not typically name rape victims, but Oliveira speaks openly about his case and allows his name to be used.

Oliveira returned to Brazil in 2007 after losing an appeal. Before he left, he and Coco married in Massachusetts in 2005 and bought a house together.

According to federal immigration law, immigrants also can apply for residency if they marry U.S. citizens. But the federal government does not recognize gay marriages under the Defense of Marriage Act, and Oliveira's request to remain in the United States based on his relationship with Coco was denied this year.

Senator's plea
In March, Sen. John Kerry asked Attorney General Eric Holder to grant Oliveira asylum on humanitarian grounds.

Kerry spokeswoman Brigid O'Rourke said Monday that the senator will continue to work toward a solution that would reunite the couple for good.

"The fact is that if Tim and Junior were a heterosexual married couple, they would never have suffered through more than two years of separation," said O'Rourke.

Coco said he thought there was "no way" the Obama Administration would deny Oliveira's asylum request after Kerry made his plea to Holder.

"We are profoundly sad," said Coco.

The case comes as Obama tries to smooth a rocky relationship with gay activists, who want him to end the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays, which he has pledged to do but hasn't given a timeline. Tens of thousands of gay rights supporters marched in Washington earlier this month, demanding Obama keep his promise to end the policy.

Coco said he has spent about $250,000 in legal bills and hasn't seen Oliveira since January, though the two video chat online every night.

Oliveira was denied a visa to return to Massachusetts last year for the funeral of Coco's mother.

Oliveira now lives with his mother, helping her run a boarding house for students.

Coco said the couple plans to launch a legal challenge against the federal Defense of Marriage Act as a violation of immigration laws.

"This is our last shot, if nothing else works," said Coco. "But we think we can pull this off with the right legal counsel."

DOMA challenge
O'Rourke said Kerry supports the couple's legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits how state, local and federal bodies can recognize partnerships and determine benefits. He also called for a law to extend benefits to domestic partners.

This month, Obama called on Congress to repeal the Defense Of Marriage Act.

While Brazilians are generally more tolerant of homosexual conduct than their neighbors in Latin America, the country remains something of a paradox. Judges have granted foreign partners in gay relationships the right to residency and have authorized civil unions that bestow many of the same benefits of marriage to gay couples, but many segments of society remain openly hostile to homosexuals.

A handful of transgender men and women from Brazil also have been granted asylum in the U.S. based on testimony that they had been victims of violence.

Since 1994, sexual orientation has been grounds for asylum in the United States after a ruling by then-Attorney General Janet Reno. Dozens of asylum seekers from the Middle East, Latin America and Africa have won asylum on that ground, according to Immigration Equality, a New York-based nonprofit group that helps gay clients with immigration cases.

However, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services doesn't keep data on asylum cases won on sexual orientation claims.